Wednesday, 22 February 2012

John Michuki: Businessman and politician who fought for the environment


John Njoroge Michuki, (December 1932 – February 21, 2012) was not only a business man and a politician, he was an environmentalist.

He fought hard for the conservation of the environment since his appointed as an Environment and Mineral resources minister in the Mwai Kibaki government on April 13, 2008.

While working in Nairobi then as a journalist, this was one of the most memorable news events I covered where he spoke on the need of conserving the environment for the future generations.

“The forest is running away, its getting further and further away. Have you noticed the trees in Kenya are also running away? It is like they are sensing our movements and they run away,” Chanuka Express actor’s voices echoed humorously amongst the crowd.

What seemed laughable to many was a premonition for a bleak future. The minister for Environment and Mineral Resources, John Michuki, emphasized that environment is the fabric of our existence and represents the physical space we use for our surroundings. It comprises of life support systems: forests, wetlands, rivers, seas and oceans and carries incredibly diverse landscapes.

“Environment represents all the elements of life. Indeed it is the totality of creation,” he said.

Unfortunately, our human distortions have created disharmony and perilous conditions that undermine our very survival. A call for action is now. We must do all we can to retrace our steps and protect the life support systems.

Destruction of the environment is largely a result of lack of awareness of the impact of human attitude, behavior and activities on the environment. Restoring degraded forests and water catchment’s areas through rehabilitation efforts to prevent further excisions that have led to increased deforestation whose consequences are being felt. For instance, River Njoro, which drains into Lake Nakuru, was a perennial river. Now, it has become a seasonal river. The water level in the boreholes of Egerton University has dropped significantly over the last few years, making some of these boreholes unusable. “These are preliminary signs. The full consequences of these excisions are not known,” the PM Raila Odinga, noted during the Mau stakeholders meeting.

In order to preserve and conserve the environment for posterity while utilizing and benefiting from the resources, we need to put in place lessening measures, environmental awareness and education are, therefore an important component of environmental management program.

The launch of the National Environmental Education and Awareness Initiative (EEAI) by the Ministry of Environment and Mineral resources a last year was a milestone in the evolution of the country’s environment agenda.
The initiative under the banner:  “conserve our environment – promote partnerships for a clean, healthy and secure environment for improved livelihoods and sustainable development” to mobilize the public, the Kenyan people and all stakeholders to actively participate in environmental conservation and restoration.

The minister of environment and mineral resources, John Michuki, emphasized that, everyone in Kenya must become familiar with the Environmental management and Coordination Act (EMCA). This is the operational law for environmental governance in Kenya supported by the Environment policy.  This is articulated in the draft sessional paper No. 6 of 1999 to integrate environmental issues.

For this reason, to secure the stability of our environment remains essential to sustainable development to achieve the vision 2030 blue print.  “Hard political decisions will be necessary for environmental restoration programme,” Mr. Michuki noted.

In order to conserve the environment, Kenyans are urged to adopt the Lean Development mechanisms (CDMs). This can be achieved through proper waste management, recycling, including use of renewable energy sources. The country will also seek to take advantage of emerging carbon markets to improve the low forest cover.

Sustainable land use meets today’s and future needs, but a community that destroys its natural resources forfeits its future. Consequently, environmental and sustainability education ca only be achieved if educators take leadership role, breaking new ground to prepare society for an age of accelerating change in a world of increasingly diverse and growing populations, an expanding economy and changing global environment.

Education is generally agreed to be the most effective way to impart knowledge and skills that can be applied outside the classroom in everyday life. The desired outcome is informed citizens who are prepared to participate responsibly in a sustainable society. It is believed that an acceptable quality of life is dependent on the wise use of the environment, which is a belief that should be enacted through sustainable environmental education programmes.
 Environmentalist’s note that, issues that concerned the environment was about knowledge, science and opportunities to do things differently.

United Nations Environmental Programme representative, Achim Steiner, in an interview during the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) member’s convention said that Kenya had to look at what to adapt in the global dynamics. He proposed three levels:

One, the government should develop new infrastructure from the climate change perspective. Secondly, create better conditions by maintaining key systems; this is by making resilient ecosystems to cope with the change. He cited the wetlands, glaciers and the mountains as areas that were vulnerable and need to be protected.
Thirdly, the country to invest in renewable energy, adding that it is only in Africa where the sun shines always and need to factor in the aspect.

“The sun shines nowhere better than Africa, solar energy, geothermal and hydroelectric energy has been proved to work, these frontiers are a better investment,” he said.

The Director General for Conservation Union (IUCN), Julia Marton and Steiner, also noted that, the country could use its intelligence to effectively conserve its environment, adding that, we can be more resilient to adapt to climate change, by building capacity for the generation and use of realistic regional climate change scenarios that will enable the region to formulate appropriate adaptation strategies and policies to build resilience of communities to cope with the impacts.
She also emphasized that climate change was real but with proper mechanisms in place we could prevent a little bit.

“Climate change it is real, it is coming but we can mitigate a little of its effects,” she said.

The steps we take today will be an important step in making real progress on addressing national loss of land the degradation of the environment.       
This is not always easy but saving the environment is critical so that we can pass on a rich heritage to children and their children. It is a complex issue and it is one which all of us must work together in a mutual and cooperative way to understand how best to give value to the environment,  to the forests and to all other aspects of the environment so that it can be preserved.

As Minister for Environment and Mineral Resources, he initiated diverse programmes and projects among them being the Nairobi River's Rehabilitation and Restoration Programme, the reclamation of the Kenya's five water towers (the Mau Forest Complex, Mount Kenya, Aberdare Range, Mount Elgon and Cherangany Hills).


He was honoured with a UNEP Award for his clean-up of the Nairobi River and the city.Michuki is the force behind the enactment of a new mining act to regulate environmental degradation and mining.

He also took key leadership role in addressing Africa's position towards the Climate Change conference in Copenhagen (December 2009) and served as the Co-Chair of International Environmental Governance (IEG).

Michuki led the Kenya delegation to the Durban Environmental Conference in South Africa on 28 November-9 December 2011 where he stated Kenya's determination to reduce the menace of global warming and called on the world's wealthy nations to assist the poor ones to mitigate the devastation of climate change.

This turned out to be the Minister's last official assignment, having missed the 12th Special Session of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Governing Council Global Ministerial Forum held in Nairobi on 20 February 2012.

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